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Pilot’s blog: My Route to the Sky

First of all, let me introduce myself.

I am Viktor, and I am from Russia. Currently I am looking for a pilot job. I have a FAA CPL with IR and ME ratings and 280 flight hours. I finished the first step, and I totally understand that it is only the beginning of a long path. If you know somebody who is interested in a low hour pilot, regardless of terms and payment size, please let me know, I will greatly appreciate it.

In my blog I am describing how I answered the very popular question “how to be a pilot” for myself, and will describe my next steps like getting my first pilot job and my career progress. Sometimes I post my thoughts and doubts here.

I was always looking at the sky with interest and curiosity since I was a small kid. The sky is attractive, marvelous for me. There is an infinity and freedom…

The main idea of this blog is a description of my pilot’s route “from zero to hero”. I was 30 when I had decided to completely change my career, and I still keep going.

Initially I started my blog in Russian, and since that time I made a bunch of long posts. I am working on translation, but since I don’t have very much time, I finished only about 50% of the whole content, and it still contains some typos and mistakes. If you want to read more, you may click on “Russian” link at the right side and use google translate for now, or just wait some time: I promise, I will translate all my posts manually as soon as I can.

The second point is that English is not my first language (probably you already noticed that), that’s why I highly appreciate if you state my mistakes in the comments. I will correct my posts to make them better. Nevertheless, my English is a little better than Google’s one, at least until Rise of the Machines πŸ™‚

My first discovery about flying was made rather late, and at first it seemed simple: everybody can fly. Literally everybody, without exceptions, and all you need is just desire. For me it was a hang glider: it turned out that there is a great community in Moscow, and it is open to everybody. One does not need a huge amount of money, one should not start from the very early ages. I heard a lot of myths and stories around that community, and they prevented me to look closer, but they were just myths. Once more I realized the simple thing: I just have to start, and I just have to move on. Don’t give up. So, it seems that it was just the right moment, and I finally made a DECISION. I want to fly!

So, anything else was a matter of time and persistence. I did not have problems with motivation, but time… Yes, I live in Moscow, and lifestyle is very fast here. You never have enough time. Therefore, I could not expedite my progress. Then I changed my job, got married, changed some other aspects of my life, and was not being able to find enough time for flying. But the idea was always alive.

After some time I started working remotely, and turned towards my passion again. Finally I made my first solo flight in dynamic flow, and landed at the place where I took off. You can find it here: Viktor hanggliding in Crimea, it’s better to watch it from about 1:50.

Time was passing, and at some moment I got enough courage to start my airplane pilot route. I think that now it is the greatest adventure in my whole life. I was searching tons of information about flight schools, I was reading a lot of forums. Actually I made a huge research. Possibly even more than needed. And finally I decided that it is time to start. No doubt, no fear. Just do it. Just move on.

I started reading books and listening liveatc. I was still sitting in Moscow and waiting for the better moment to go somewhere and start flying. Some more months passed. And I realized again: I can wait the rest of my life. The best moment is NOW. I should just do it.

In fact, I did not know how it would be, and where it could go; and I did not have a really detailed plan. But I definitely knew that I want to move on. To be honest, even now I still do not have a detailed plan further than some months: I am looking for opportunities.

I started in Czech Republic, then moved to the US for training. That decision will be explained in my further posts. I am still working, that’s why I cannot study full-time, and the progress is slower that it would be, but I definitely know that I will keep going.

Job Search

More than a year passed since I started searching a good flight school. I started with Europe (and finally got my PPL), then obtained FAA CPL in the US. It required a lot of effort, I checked out tons of information. Generally I suppose that I made a right decision.

Now I understand that it was pretty easy compared to getting a first job as a pilot. I was understanding that when I started my journey, but it is totally different to know it and to posses a licence without any job perspective. Let me can explain a little more. There are plenty of schools across the US and Europe. As a result, one should only analyze available information, feedback etc. Almost every school wants you as their student. In other words, the problem is to pick the most convenient one, in terms of instructors, policies, price etc. No doubt that it is a difficult choice, but you still have a lot of options. Finally you will have a license, sooner or later.

The job market is a different story. Nobody wants a brand new pilot with 200 hours in a small piston aircraft. In Russia nobody wants a pilot with foreign license at all. In other words, I have no valuable experience. I have only a great passion to fly and pretty good English. And I have my license, of course.

What can I do? I will apply to small carriers, again and again. What else? I will increase my hours and obtain additional ratings. Moreover, I will study for my EASA ATPL. Probably at some moment some company (or even a country) will experience a pilot shortage, and I am going to take any opportunity. And even if nothing like that happens, I am going to increase my experience. Some day I will have enough qualification for taking my first job. I am moving on.

Free Flight

The blog is still alive, as like the idea πŸ™‚

Last week I traveled to Prague. It was not related to my aviation progress, but I did not want to miss this opportunity, and tried to find an airplane. Unfortunately I had a very tight schedule, and it did not happen.

I had a day in Warsaw though, thus I signed up for ATPL theory course there. It is a distant learning with just 2 weeks on site. I signed the papers, and now I am waiting for Polish CAA approval.

At the aerodrome I realized that I still have some time, and there are some planes πŸ™‚ I tried to hire a plane, but did not succeed. Neither Ventum Air nor Salt Aviation could help me with that. When I had almost lost my hope I spotted a small building with the label “Runway Pilot School”. I entered there and asked for a plane, and voila! They provided both an airplane and a safety pilot in some minutes!

I got Cessna 172, but it was fuel injection modification with 180hp engine. It has fuel pumps, and does not have carb heater. It climbs faster than I used to in C172, and it flies nicely πŸ™‚

One more flight hour, and my first flight in Poland!

AviationExam discount: How to Save 50$

In my previous posts I already mentioned AviationExam, the great question bank for EASA exams. It is surprisingly good for FAA exams too: in spite of the fact that almost nobody in the US heard about it, from my opinion it is the best tool after Sheppard Air. I passed my FAA IR and FAA CPL written with it, and I suppose it is comparable to Gleim, probably even better, and monthly plans are available.

The usual annual subscription price for all EASA subjects is about 170 euros. The competitors (BGS Online and AtplQuestions) charge almost the same amount. Spoiler: there is a way to get a discount.

I already mentioned a discount in case of purchasing 5+ copies. It did not work for me: my blog is not so popular, and I did not want to specifically look for people interested in that product. Therefore, I have been already ready to buy it: yesterday my BGS Online subscription expired.

Unfortunately I’ve never heard about AviationExam discount codes except for black friday or cyber monday, but I already missed those promotions, so it was not the case too.

Today I was looking for free FAA books in AviationExam application for iPad (they are really great, and they are available in the application for download). Occasionally I checked EASA yearly subscription, and it was 150$! Was it magic? I don’t know, but for some reason the subscription is cheaper from iOS app than from the website. The subscription bought from iPad remains valid for all devices, so I can study from my PC or Android app too. The price is permanent, so I didn’t have to wait for black friday to save about 50$ by this small trick πŸ™‚

FAA commercial requirements…

… or how to waste some money.

Firstly I’d like to tell about FAA check-ride situation in Florida: a lot of flight schools, a lot of students, and only 5 DPEs. On practice it means that usually one have to wait for a checkride more than a month. We are a little bit lucky, because DPE works in our school, and if somebody cancels, we have a priority. Of course one can apply for a FAA examiner, but waiting time is even longer. Usually much longer.

So, I met my commercial requirements according to FAR 61.129 about a week and a half ago, and scheduled a checkride. I was lucky, somebody had a cancellation, and I was expecting a checkride July 16. And on Tuesday somebody canceled a checkride on 12th of July, and I took that slot. That is I expected my commercial checkride today. It did not happen. It has stopped even before we started an oral part, during a logbook analysis.

So, what happened? We see the following in FAR 61.129:

(i) Ten hours of instrument training using a view-limiting device including attitude instrument flying, partial panel skills, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, and intercepting and tracking navigational systems. Five hours of the 10 hours required on instrument training must be in a single engine airplane;

During my instrument training I got 38, and I considered that I’m done with that. But the examiner used this and this FAA letters. In the first one we can see that 61.65 training hours (i. e. towards instrument rating) do not qualify towards 61.129 requirements (commercial). The opposite works. The letter is for helicopter rating, but nevermind, for airplanes we have the same. The second letter says that the training can qualify, but it should meet 61.129 requirements. I. e. if CFII explicitly adds that in the logbook during your instrument, you are safe. But the problem is that I was on a part 141 during my instrument. It is a structured training with an approved syllabus. Nobody mentioned anything about 61.129. Actually standards are the same, and training is the same. But legally it does not work without mention of 61.129. And DPE’s position – I need 10 hours more instrument time (dual) after 141 instrument program.

Possibly it was naive, but I supposed to have almost exactly 250h TT before my checkride. It does not happen now. So, let’s fly more. I hope I will have a long cross-country tomorrow (the concern is the weather…). Later I just have to plan ahead more carefully. During my commercial training I had a small doubt about this requirement, but I did not paid attention on it, neither my CFI did.

So, I need more hours, my checkride shifts by some days, and I cannot even imagine when I can have my multi checkride. Flight hours are OK, they always matter, but I am disappointed about longer time.

P. S. when I already realized that I don’t fly today, I figured out that the airplane for our checkride have only 1 hour before 100h inspection. Somebody flew a cross-country yesterday night.

AviationExam and BGS Online

My EASA ATPL written test preparation moves on very slowly. But I don care, because during this time I completed my FAA IR, and now I am working on my FAA CPL. Nevertheless, I am still interested in EASA ATPL, and I’d like to continue studying.

So, my yearly BGS Online subscription is close to ending, and I’d like to either renew it or purchase AviationExam product. Possibly anybody is interested in the EASA QB access? Group price is cheaper, and purchasing 5-10 subscriptions can save some $$$ =)

Bartow

Today I finally succeeded in my efforts of trying to wake up early at the weekend. Actually it was a good reason to do it: much more chances to fly cross-country wherever you want before thunderstorm activity. Today I was going to Bartow. It is an airport in about 70 miles to the South-East. Close enough to have a breakfast and go back before significant weather activity.

Today it was a typical Florida summer day near the Gulf of Mexico: after about 11 am the South would be closed by some thunderstorms lines or at least isolated thunderstorms. So, I was going to Bartow. It is a controlled airport in a class D airspace. I was expecting practicing my communications. I checked tower working hours, and everything seemed OK. With that weather and my working hours I was able to fly South-East not very frequently.

I decided to ask for a flight following: good practice for IFR flight communications (of course, not exactly, but close enough). And it is a good idea to get a traffic information in that area. Climbing to 5500. The air is calm and cool, today was a perfect summer weather. No clouds, so nothing prevented me to climb to that altitude.

About 15 miles to the destination it’s better to get ASOS information: the weather and a runway in use at the destination airport. Apart from that, I heard something like “the restaurant is closed”. Oh, it seems that I have no breakfast today.

Landing, vacating the runway. I am asking for a clearance for taxiing to the FBO. Taxiing to something that I supposed to be the FBO, but… “N7692U, FBO is in another direction!”. “Request progressive taxi…” How can I know that the FBO is the small building with a 4-plane parking? I thought that it is a group of hangars and 100-plane parking nearby… No signs at the airport, no markings on the airport diagram. BTW, thank you very much for understanding!

The airport itself was a cozy place: there were an interesting small museum and a free cup of coffee available. Very friendly tower controller πŸ˜‰

So, it’s time to go back. The weather still looked good, and I was done with my coffee.

On the way back I decided to ask for a flight following again: there were some clouds on the way, and it was a good idea to have traffic advisories. I fly a VFR-only airplane, which means that I cannot enter the clouds under any circumstances, and possibly I even could not manage to go direct. In that case flight following can be a good advantage.

I requested 4500, but the controller asked me for 3500. OK, why not. After some time I have been seeing clouds straight ahead. OK, asking 4500. Clouds were still somewhere in front of me and were getting closer. 6500. No way, still below the tops somewhere in front of me. Damn, I supposed that those tops should be at about 4000-5000! I had absolutely no wish to try to go through that labyrinth. So, I should either try to go higher, or descend and proceed below them. OK, descending back to the summer hot. I was not able to continue direct, I didn’t want to go back, so I had to make 360s, like a spiral. 6000, 5000, 4000, 3000. Still almost at the cloud base. 2000. OK, at least here I am well below. I can proceed to my destination, and it is easy to find aΒ labyrinth path when you are below it.

After about 10 miles the clouds became something between few and scattered. Oh, every day in that place I can see almost the same. Two more hours, and there will be thunderstorms here. But at that moment it was still good.

What a nice weekend! =)

Commercial Maneuvers

Currently I am flying complex airplane hours, and I decided to do that in a multiengine airplane. The basic principles in flying the maneuvers in a multiengine airplane are the same as in a single-engine one, but there are some more procedures, and the speed range is wider.

The main difference for me is even not an additional engine but complex airplane features like fixed-speed prop and retractable gear. I’ve never flown that kind of aircraft before. Two engines require more careful instruments scanning, there are literally two sets of engine instruments. In basic maneuvers the pilot has to move all kind of levers (like throttle, mixture or prop) for two engines simultaneously. Our airplane does not have automatic engines sync, so I also have to slightly move the controls of one engine to reduce noise and vibration.

The main difference in the multi-engine course is one-engine operations. Compared to maneuvers, tt is a completely new set of procedures, and everything develops quicker. I am going to have an ME rating, so we are flying one-engine procedures too.

Anyway, I love this heavy mighty airplane πŸ™‚

IFR Gainesville

I failed to fly IFR with the school’s black N4642J due to oil temperature problem, but the weather was still OK to fly, and one more airplane became available. At 2:30 pm it was still possible to fly to Gainesville and back. The weather forecast was FM1900Z VCTS ΠΈ BKN40CB, which means that there would be some thunderstorm activity, but not necessarily. Usually thunderstorms sit at the same places day-to-day at approximately the same time. Moreover, it is very easy to see them from the very long distance.

The radar showed a very good picture too, so I decided to fly to Gainesville. I filed and IFR plan, again, just to practice these skills. The weather conditions were visual.

I saw some distant thunderstorms on the way to Gainesville, and even a small cell on my course, so I requested a deviation due to weather. After avoiding this cell I got a direct route to the airport, and landed on a longer runway.

I decided to depart immediately since thunderstorm clouds were far from the airport at that moment, but that could quickly change. I requested and got my clearance, took off and flew back to the Crystal River. At 3000 feet I had some cumulus clouds above, but after about 20 miles from Gainesville the sky became clear. I was happy that I had decided to fly today πŸ™‚

Florida Summertime

The summer in Florida is much worse than the winter. It is generally correct that it’s possible to fly all year long, but in winter we have almost all day, and in summer we can have only about 2-3 hours or nothing at all.

I used to thunderstorms after about 2-3pm almost every day: they are predictable, and they are visible from a long distance. I used to the fact that heavy rain right now does not mean that in about an hour the weather will become flyable again. Flight planning in summer can be very interesting.

Today it was extremely hot. The only available airplane for today was N4642J, the one painted in black. I decided to fly IFR, just for practice: the weather is good.

Preflight and runup checks were OK. In a climb I contacted ATC and activated my flight plan. At about 4000 feet oil temperature raised almost to the red zone. I cancelled my flight plan, reduced power for better cooling and turned back. Just in case I was checking fields nearby, but in case of engine failure I had about 8 minutes, which was enough to fly to a home base from my altitude.

Fortunately the engine was still alive, and even the oil temperature started to drop. At about 5 miles to the airport I started to prepare for a normal landing with some altitude margin in case of engine failure.

The engine did not quit, I made a normal landing and taxied to the ramp. But I don’t think that it is a good idea to fly this airplane without further inspection, especially for a cross-country flights, so I left a red ticket for maintenance guys.

Multi-engine

I am starting my multi-engine flights. FAA CPL requires 10 hours in a complex airplane (with retractable gear, variable pitch prop, flaps). Now it changed, but it was a requirement in 2018. I am going to obtain ME rating anyway, so I decided to fly my complex hours in a multi-engine airplane.

Usually our school use Beechcraft Bonanza (BE-36. v-tail) as a complex airplane and Beechcraft Duchess (BE-76, T-tail) as a multi-engine one. The flight hour price difference is insignificant, and FAA canceled the complex airplane requirement for a checkride. The drawback is that BE-76 engines are only 180hp, which means that it is not a high-performance airplane, so I cannot obtain that endorsement in it.

This airplane is heavier and more powerful, checklists are longer, and the pilot has less time to think. But with two operational engines it behaves very similar to a single-engine one, we just use two levers simultaneously.

There is not so many additional things – just a couple of new levers and instruments, but on practice it increases workload, expecially taking into consideration that everything goes faster.

The takeoff is hilarious. The airplane accelerates very quickly. Takeoff speed is a little higher, and our takeoff distance is longer.

Parking is a little complicated too: the distance between metal pillars are narrow, and it looks a bit scary. Mirrors on the engines help a lot, but it’s better to keep the yellow line as precisely as possible.

Taxiing turns using differential thrust are interesting πŸ™‚

Retractable gear adds the impression of flying boeing, the sound during retraction/extension is unforgettable πŸ™‚

The flight itself is very similar to usual single-engine flight, but there are some more checklist items and instruments. At first I tend to look more at the instruments than outside, especially during maneuvers.

The landing is almost the same, but it is a low-wing airplane, and it is heavier. Another difference is that we always make power-on landing: cutting the engines during the flare can result in a hard landing.

Once more I feel something new and interesting, many things to learn!